Congress is heading for a collision on the Hyde amendment, and the stakes could not be higher.
This amendment to bills appropriating funds for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, named after prime sponsor Rep. Henry Hyde, has prevented federal funding of almost all abortions since 1977.
President Joe Biden now opposes the amendment, after many years of supporting it.
And Rep. Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House subcommittee drafting this year’s appropriations bill, boasts that through the bill “we ensure equal treatment for women no matter what their ZIP code is by finally repealing the discriminatory and harmful Hyde amendment.”
Opposing her effort are pro-life Americans inside and outside Congress, including the Catholic bishops through their campaign called notaxpayerabortion.com.
DeLauro’s “discriminatory” claim may refer to a charge by Planned Parenthood and others that the Hyde amendment is “racist” because it disproportionately affects women of color who make up a large percentage of the Medicaid population.
Ironically, Planned Parenthood itself has been accused of racism by hundreds of present and former employees; they point out that the organization’s founder, Margaret Sanger, was “a white, racist woman.”
The tragic reality is that even now, Black women in the U.S. have over three times the abortion rate of white women. It is hard to see how a further increase in the number of Black children who are aborted is a blow against racism.
DeLauro’s odd mention of ZIP codes underscores the doubly coercive aspect of her bill. It will not only force all Americans to pay for abortions through their federal taxes. With Hyde gone, the Medicaid statute will require all states to provide matching funds for abortions the federal government funds.
So the 33 states that have freely chosen, by legislative action or direct vote of the people, to ban use of their state funds for most abortions will have to rescind those policies, or face ejection from Medicaid. And pro-life Americans in every state, city and village will have to fund abortions through both their federal and state taxes.
This coercive agenda reaches further. The last part of the Hyde amendment, sponsored by Florida physician Rep. Dave Weldon, forbids state and federal governments to discriminate against individual and institutional health care providers and health plans that decline to be involved in abortion. This policy, in effect for 17 years, will also be rescinded.
Hyde/Weldon has helped save the careers of doctors, nurses and nursing students who faced pressure to violate their pro-life convictions. It has also been invoked against policies in California and elsewhere that force almost all private health plans in the state to include elective abortions.
The significance of this attack on Hyde and Weldon is hard to overstate. For over half a century, despite the Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion, an unwritten law has governed the court’s rulings and the abortion debate among most lawmakers of both parties: Even those of us who want to allow abortion will not force others to support or perform it.
The campaign for abortion has prided itself on being “pro-choice,” and that even means respecting (however grudgingly) the choice of those who disagree.
That effort to maintain some minimum level of mutual respect on our nation’s most divisive issue seems to be over. Pro-life Americans, including faithful Catholics in the healing professions, are to be treated with disdain and forced into actively supporting the destruction of unborn children, violating their own basic moral convictions.
How anyone promoting that campaign could call himself or herself a devout Catholic is a mystery.
Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.
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